Birthing // breaking
I gave birth yesterday.
Was how it was slated to begin. But here we are ten days later and that sentence is now manifestly (mercifully) untrue.
I’ve occasionally stumbled across birth blogs from bloggers I regularly read and one thing (other than mild horror) that’s always struck me is how long is usually takes them to post about it. Of course now I know that that’s because if you did post the day after it would essentially be a stream of consciousness scream of pain and betrayal that no one fully explained how horrific the culmination of procreation is for humans. Perhaps I should put a trigger warning on this post?
If you plan to reproduce in the next 24 months you are advised to carefully consider whether the content contained in this post is appropriate to you. This post contains adult themes, graphic imagery and references to surgical procedures and/or bodily fluids.
Lets go back to the 3rd of January. The baby was three days “overdue”, so there was nothing to do but wait, and wait. It was soporifically hot, a long languid day of wasted minutes and squandered hours. My main achievement for the day was getting a manicure and pedicure, which was both booked and paid for by my mother (who also deposited me outside. Champion). The beauty treatment was notable both because I lied about my due date out of fear that they would decline to have me sit in their caramel coloured leather chairs if they knew I was a ticking time bomb who’d been warned about the likelihood of induction by the hospital that very day and because both my manicure and pedicure survived the next 72hrs absolutely chip-free.
I woke at 3.15am. This was not unusual, pregnant people wake up all the time to go to the bathroom. More unusual is the fact that it seemed I’d already gone to the toilet. In the bed.
So went my reasoning. Either I have regressed to pre-toilet training or that there on the bed were those ephemerally referred to ‘waters’ and they have broken, which would make this labour. I sat on this thought (and the wet patch) for a good thirty minutes, considering the reoccurring thrums of pain that were increasingly traversing my body. Yes, I reasoned, this must be it. Labour. I poked my unconscious partner. He must have been sleeping incredibly lightly as he literally sprang from the bed, taking the trouble to put on nice dress shoes before going to alert my slumbering mother down the hall.
I hear my usually-dead-to-the-world-at-this-hour sister answer on the first ring; “Is it on?”
“It’s on” my mother replies, “I’ll pick you up.”
We reconvene at the hospital and I tell them what J and I have just been told, that I’ll most likely be sent home after being assessed as first pregnancies are slow to develop from pre-labour to actual labour and there’s no point in us killing the next 24hrs in hospital waiting for it to progress. My mum snorts slightly. She’s maintained throughout that this ‘first babies take ages’ thing does not apply to us (her labour with me was 7.5hrs go to whoa). Turns out she’s right. We’re not sent home, but ushered down the hall as the midwife speaks on the phone about ‘things progressing rapidly.’ No shit. I grip the wall for support.
My mother and sister make vague noises about waiting outside as we’re shown into the birthing suite; my mother has espoused throughout my pregnancy that, while she would be present if I really required it she would really rather not be, and though my sister has expressed a desire to attend she has been told that she can’t. There’s nowhere really to wait though and, once in the room, neither seems inclined to leave.
I know now that this all matters not a jot. Make birth plans all you like (I didn’t but like, it was on my ‘to-do’ list) but know that when the time comes you absolutely do not care who witnesses you in this undignified state of intermittent grunting and swearing. I could be in a field. Ideally a darkened field though. My photosensitivity is suddenly through the roof. J tries to play a prepared play-list as per our parenting classes, but I’m not having a bar of it and tell him to shut it off. Dark silence is what’s required.
Except for me of course. Over the next 8hrs I am anything but quiet. I swear and yell and pant - in water, out of water and potentially underwater. I hear J ask the midwife what I can have for pain relief but she tells him I have to ask for it myself. They won’t actively offer or otherwise suggest anything besides deep breathing. Fucking hippies, I think. Between grunts I ask for gas and am given a set-up that pill-popping ravers would love, where you can both inhale and also chew on the mouthpiece. In hindsight I suspect you’re not meant to chew - but we’re well past the point where that can be politely mentioned.
Like a plane, you have to be approved for take off. At first my flight plans are approved and pushing is given the all clear. Heartbreakingly though, these permissions are then withdrawn and – to stretch the analogy further – the entire venture is grounded. The baby is ‘posterior’ I hear them say, which is exerting extra pressure and causing me to want to push before I should. You muppets I want to shout, I need to push! I must! …but I think I just swear nonsensically instead.
So follows a truly horrific hour of consciously not pushing (bet you never thought not-pushing out an infant could be worse than pushing it out). They offer me an epidural, which would cancel out a lot of the unmitigated back pain, but this turns out to be a mirage, since the anaesthetist has gone AWOL and cannot be secured for at least another hour. By then my flight plans have been approved and the green light given for departure (or is it arrival?)
My plaintive query (scream) as to what other pain relief is available meets with a not unsympathetic ‘now? none’. My follow up query of why can’t they just cut the baby out is met with silence. They must get that one a lot.
We’ll skate over the part known as ‘active labour’ except to say that nothing anyone says can prepare you for that type or level of pain. My mother-in-law had (wisely) recommended trying to go with the pain and to see each contraction as a wave bringing you closer to the anticipated shore. But there was (for me at least) a point at which this no longer felt feasible. It really did feel like it might very well kill me. This is a pain one instinctively tries to escape - but of course by that point it is far too late.
J keeps asking if I’d like ‘just a sip of some lovely iced water’. He really is an excellent birth partner. I repay his kindness by insisting he give me his hand each contraction and doing my best to transfer the pain I’m feeling into those five fingers.
The midwives keep cautioning me to ‘push slow.’ Logically I know they’re right but logic has no place here and I ignore their advice. There’s a final push but not really any sense of relief. The white-hot pressure that had electrified my nerve endings is gone, replaced with an innate knowledge of somehow being broken. I feel utterly broken. I am kneeling, naked, over the back of a hospital bed in a room somehow full of people. The midwives tell me to look down. I do. There is a purple slime alien beneath me. I stare at it in horror.
‘That’s your baby”
It’s my what? I mean obviously there was going to be a baby at the end of all this but it is still completely unreal. It also doesn’t look a lot like a baby. J cuts the cord. I hold the purple slime-alien, which has been wiped of some, but not all, of its slime. It is I suppose more conventionally baby-like beneath the slime. Then there’s the process of expelling the placenta (gross, looks like an actual organ), having my stomach strongly massaged to expel anything else (seriously ouch and gross) and stitches (also ouch. Also very pleased now no one listened to request to be cut open since that would have had a lot more stitches involved).
There’s a surprising amount of ouch in afterbirth.
3hrs post breaking, as birth is hereafter known, the baby (“does he have a name yet?”) has been weighed (3.95kg / 8 pounds 11 ounces) and measured (52.5cm long / head 34.5cm). Then they measure his oxygen levels. At 4hrs old they expect 100% oxygenation. At 3hrs he’s doing 75%. I think the midwife looks concerned but then again the room is very dark and I’m not at my most perceptive.
“Ah, we’ll just pop with him over to the special nursery. Won’t be long. Why don’t you have a shower and then you can come join us?”
A shower does sound like a necessary and grand thing. In hindsight I’m still not sure if there were cues I missed (likely) or if everything was as vague as I recall but at no point in the next 8hrs, which is when the neonatal ambulance arrives, am I told my baby is sick. I am however told I can’t touch him. Which hurts in ways I can’t put words to so I go to my hospital room, gingerly lie on the plastic bed and cry.
He’s being transferred to a bigger hospital with a specialised neonatal intensive care unit the next time I see him. He looks both small and incredibly breakable in the enclosed ventilator crib dome, wires running everywhere, cannulas in both hands. My right hand still has its own cannula, a memento of the aborted epidural effort that now seems like an eon ago.
The paediatrician, a brusque lady verging on rude, of indeterminate age and oddly pink streaked grey hair, says he needs to be transferred for specialist care, as they can’t stabilise his hyperglycaemia. She tells me I must have had had undiagnosed gestational diabetes and maintains this even when I tell her the test (taken several weeks late) was negative as she says there is no other cause of hyperglycaemia in newborns. Even in my hazy state my dislike for her (and what feels like her blame of me) is sharp.
Although he is to be transferred to the new hospital, I must be discharged before I can follow, a process that takes and inordinately long time and results in us arriving at the (locked) hospital at midnight and me plaintively telling the security intercom “…but my baby is in there”. Straight out of a b-grade movie.
The neonatal intensive care meanwhile is straight out of the newest space flick – all sleek white and blinking lights. Despite the setting he doesn’t look like my alien anymore, his face is obscured by a snorkel device (I later discover this is called a CPAP and can be used to deliver oxygen and/or pressure to little lungs) while on his head is a hat best described as a white cotton number that makes him look like a Christmas pudding with legs.
Highlights of the next three days include him coming off oxygen, then coming off the glucose drip, then transitioning from formula to expressed breast milk through a drip and finally to actually breastfeeding.
Lowlights include hand expressing into a syringe, crying in the bath and trying not to internalise the idea that the hospital saga is somehow cosmic reply to the fact that I have been rather blasé about the impact of this unintended baby on my life. Naturally, it is in the moment of contemplating my life without this unnamed baby that I realise I absolutely must have it. I cry some more.
On day three we receive a diagnosis: congenital pneumonia. I ask about the blood sugar, which has by now stabilised, but the new doctor (a very lanky chap with a slightly awkward manner who is both kind and competent – a vast improvement) is relatively dismissive of the importance of this, they think the hyperglycaemia was simply the result of working so hard to breathe. He tells us that, if everything remains equal, we should be discharged on day five, once the course of antibiotics is complete.
There’s a brief hiccup in the form of jaundice requiring phototherapy (which requires him to wear an X-men Cyclops eye mask while lying in a blue light tanning bed). But finally, when day five rolls around, we are given permission to roll out.
And just like that, we have a baby. Name pending.